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NASA slaps Boeing with 61 ‘corrective actions’ after Starliner failure

Published Mar 8th, 2020 10:24AM EDT
starliner news
Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls
  • A NASA investigation resulted in a long list of things Boeing needs to fix with its Starliner spacecraft. 
  • A total of 61 “corrective actions” must be performed by Boeing before the project can continue. 
  • The changes will take months, possibly delaying Boeing’s Starliner timeline even further. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

NASA’s internal investigation into the shortcomings of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has concluded, and the results don’t look great for Boeing. A whopping 61 “corrective actions” have been issued by NASA, and the space agency believes it will take a while for Boeing to fix the lengthy list.

As CNBC reports, Boeing says the 61 items fall into a trio of larger, overarching issues that have to be fixed before Starliner’s next trip skyward. These mandated fixes will likely set back the Starliner program significantly, meaning that the planned crewed flight trials that Boeing was hoping would take place in 2020 could face significant delays.

Boeing’s uncrewed test flight tasked the spacecraft with leaving Earth and then docking with the International Space Station. Unfortunately, the spacecraft’s internal clock was not in sync with the actual mission timer, and the spacecraft ended up burning a whole bunch of fuel that it still needed. This glitch prevented Starliner from making it all the way to the space station, and the mission ended in a disappointing return to Earth.

That test run was something that NASA required Boeing to perform prior to allowing NASA astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. As the trial run ended in such disappointing fashion, it’s possible NASA will force Boeing to redo the test before moving forward. If so, that would be another significant delay for the Starliner program as a whole, pushing the timeline back further. Boeing, for its part, says it’s perfectly happy to repeat the test if required.

This is just the latest setback for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which has already seen more than its fair share of delays. Both Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon failed to meet multiple deadlines along the way, but at this point, it’s clear that SpaceX is leading the charge. Crew Dragon has already performed a successful uncrewed trip to the ISS and NASA has given SpaceX the thumbs up to launch a crewed test flight sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s repeated delays of Starliner could be seen as a symptom of a larger problem at the company which has had a very, very rough couple of years. Starliner is no closer to carrying astronauts today than it was before its embarrassing test flight glitch, and if SpaceX’s crewed test flight goes as planned, we could see SpaceX running multiple crewed trips to the ISS before Starliner ever get the chance. Safety is, of course, the top priority in all of this, and NASA won’t clear a spacecraft until it’s fully satisfied with its ability to deliver astronauts to the ISS in one piece.